Live Report: The Ataris “So Long, Astoria” 20th Anniversary Concert (4/7/23)

There was some kismet to going to college at UCSB at the same time as The Ataris, a band that moved to and made Santa Barbara their home base, having their big breakthrough. This breakthrough was their album So Long, Astoria, featuring singles like “In this Diary”, “My Reply” and their mega-hit cover of Don Henley‘s “The Boys of Summer”. With the album hitting its twentieth anniversary this year, frontman Kris Roe got the current iteration of the band back together for the first of two anniversary shows, this one at Los Angeles’ The Wiltern.

Opening the night were Bad Cop, Bad Cop, a group I had heard of but was not familiar with prior to the show. With a classic skate-punk sound, but a stage presence taking influence from AC/DC (especially in some of their guitar heroics), the group definitely captured that old school punk rock sound. Their banter stuck to giving a little background on the songs, and riling the crowd up with clapping. While the vocal sound was super clear, the hooks still came through on tracks like “Womanarchist” and “Retrograde”, and were overall a solid starter for the evening.

So time for some honesty; if it had just been an Ataris show, I probably wouldn’t have gone. Not that I don’t like the band – I just had a New York trip planned and was going to take a red-eye to the Big Apple that night. What sold me on attending (and taking a 6:30am flight to NYC the next day) was the long-awaited return of Samiam to Los Angeles. The group hadn’t played the city in fifteen years, and over that time, I have become a very passionate fan. With their new album two weeks old (see our review of it here), the band first made their way to the stage quietly, with frontman Jason Beebout telling the crowd about the new album, before…walking off stage. It was a somewhat confusing moment, but then the band all came back on, joking about wanting to come on stage in the dark. They then went into “80 West”, from 2011’s Trips, which felt like the perfect choice as Beebout sung “I’ve been away for so long”, almost acknowledging their absence.

Their most streamed song, “Sunshine”, came next and the band’s tightness and power shined strong on the anthemic track. “Wisconsin” was powerful, and the first new song of the night, “Crystallized”, rang soulful with the band harmonies. Samiam connect on such an emotional level to me, with lyrics like “What makes you so hard to find, when you’re right by my side” from “Lights Out Little Hustler” echoing the pain of a failing relationship in such a visceral way, I found myself singing along like an enraptured teenager. But, the highlight was the passionate “Dull”, one of the most moving tracks off 2000’s Astray. The recounting of a friend’s suicide and the confusion and disillusionment that follows is one of the band’s darkest, saddest songs and hits like a bullet. After a track like that, the band smartly lifted the mood back up with one of their other top-tier songs, the ska-tinged “She Found You”. The hope at the core of this song isn’t lost in the bouncy, sing-along melody. While there were a heap of other songs I would have liked to hear from them that evening (“Mexico”, “How Long”), I’m hoping they return to Los Angeles much sooner next time so I can see them again.

Anyone who has seen Save Ferris before knows the band is a straight-up good time. Frontwoman Monique Powell is a force on stage, bringing humor and hijinks to the set on top of the band’s jovial ska music. Having seen them twice before (most recently at the 2021 Beachlife Festival), I knew what to expect, but did get to vicariously relive the first time seeing them through a friend’s eyes, as he watched for the first time. Even if you aren’t familiar with tracks like “Turn it Up”, it becomes easy to sing along as Powell’s performance engages you. Classic tracks like “The World is New” and “Mistaken” hold up beautifully, and covers like Operation Ivy‘s “Artificial Life” and The Isley Brothers “Shout” cover the spectrum of the band’s influences, from ska-punk to party soul.

One classic cover that wasn’t played was “Come On, Eileen”, and this may be due to Monique injuring herself onstage. While not announcing anything to the audience, the singer could be seen making the “cut” signal to someone, and then be helped walking off stage with her arm around the shoulder of a stagehand. Possibly a hip or leg injury. While the audience clearly wanted more, shouting for “one more song”, I hope Powell makes a speedy recovery from whatever ailed her so she can return to cheering audiences soon.

Without wasting much time between, The Ataris soon took the stage with little pomp or build-up. It was kind of refreshing to have the headliners begin their set in such a humble way. Maybe it’s because frontman Kris Roe is the sole original member of the band that has gone through a number of line-up changes over the years, so making a big to-do of the entire band hitting the stage would feel disingenuous, or maybe Roe just felt lucky to still be able to come out to a full room two decades after their hit record came out. Either way, when they started their set with the nostalgic “In this Diary”, everyone in the room was transported back two decades, singing along with heart.

Since the evening was a celebration of So Long, Astoria, the set-list wasn’t going to be a surprise. Roe gave little intros to each song, recalling writing the epic “Takeoffs and Landings” after a night watching planes take-off from LAX, and “My Reply” being written as an actual reply to a depressed Australian teen’s letter. All of these songs certainly took me back to first hearing them in college, in what certainly felt like a more innocent time (but doesn’t it always?). Roe’s voice sounded good, and the band seemed to be having a good time. While an error or two led Roe to quip that they only rehearsed a couple times prior to the show, I feel like that was part of the charm of not just the band, but the times they came up in. The era of hundreds of roaming pop-punk and emo bands, hustling their way across the country to try and capitalize on the success of groups like blink-182 and Sum 41 and get the attention of major labels and radio stations.

Unlike so many of those groups, The Ataris‘ hustling paid off, mostly due to Don Henley and Mike Campbell, who wrote their own nostalgia anthem “The Boys of Summer”, which The Ataris did a guitar-heavy cover of that KROQ decided would be their second single instead of “My Reply”. The song took off and earned the band a gold record and was probably the reason why we were all there that evening celebrating So Long, Astoria. And while the famous cover received a rapturous greeting, the band closed their main set with the album’s title track.

Of course, that wasn’t the end of the night, but unfortunately had to be for me. As I had an 4:15am wake-up the next morning, I couldn’t stay for the encore (you can see what they played here), but I still left satisfied by what I heard. Maybe the evening good enough fans streaming So Long, Astoria that it will finally reach platinum in its twentieth year? Time will tell, but either way, these songs are aging well. See for yourself by diving back into it here.


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